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Providence Schools to Improve Supports for Multilingual Learners

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and the Providence Public School District (PPSD) were joined by their partners in postsecondary education today to announce an effort to significantly increase the number of teachers trained to serve multilingual students. Providence teachers will be eligible for reimbursement up to $3,200 in educational expenses for enrolling in an English as a Second Language (ESL) certification or master’s degree program in the 2020-2021 school year. 


This initiative, which will serve up to 125 participants, will aid in the district’s efforts to comply with a recent agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The agreement is clear that Providence must increase its number of ESL-certified teachers. 


“The Department of Justice, the Johns Hopkins report, and the Ernst and Young financial analysis all called attention to this significant challenge: Providence simply does not have enough ESL-certified teachers. But in my conversations with teachers, I hear the same thing, and many of our teachers are hungry to acquire those skills,” said Angélica Infante-Green, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Thanks to the support of our partners in higher education, the cooperation of our teachers, and a collective commitment to deliver better instruction to multilingual learners, we are going to invest in our workforce and better support our students for years to come.” 


Currently, one third of the students enrolled in Providence Public Schools require ESL supports, up from one quarter of the student body in 2015 and one fifth in 2012. To meet this growing demand, the district has only 433 ESL-certified teachers. If all the available spaces in this cohort are filled, that would represent an increase of nearly 30 percent. 


“Our multilingual students are capable of learning and achieving at the highest levels, as long as we set high expectations and provide them with adequate support in the classroom. Increasing the number of ESL-certified teachers will be a huge step in the right direction to improve services for our students, and at the same time invest in our workforce in a way that improves teacher practice and sets teachers up for long-term success,” said Dottie Smith, Interim Superintendent. 


“The PTU is grateful and pleased that there is money to assist teachers with the expense of getting an EL certification,” said Maribeth Calabro, President of the Providence Teachers Union. “We recognize the urgency and critical need for educators of multi-language learners and are hopeful that this incentivizes those educators who wanted to obtain this certification but couldn’t afford to do so at this time. Any supports that our teachers can receive to better serve our students' diverse needs are welcome. We appreciate the work of the district leadership and the Commissioner to bring this money to do this important work.” 


Leaders from Rhode Island College, the Rhode Island School for Progressive Education, Roger Williams University, and the University of Rhode Island have all committed to ensure enough seat capacity for the Providence teachers enrolling in ESL certification programs. All four institutions offer ESL certification programs, and RIC and URI also offer master’s degree programs in ESL. Programs vary in cost and duration, and teachers could choose a program that best meets their individual needs. 


“As the institution that prepares more Rhode Island teachers than any other, Rhode Island College is proud to partner with the Providence Public School Department and Rhode Island Department of Education to prepare more Providence teachers to work with ELL students,” said Frank D. Sánchez, President of Rhode Island College. “It’s part of Rhode Island College’s broader commitment to ensure that teacher training in Rhode Island is meeting the needs of the community and teacher candidates are prepared for the challenges of the 21st century classroom. I commend Commissioner Infante-Green and PPSD for their leadership on this issue.” 

“RISPE is thrilled to be part of this commitment to Providence's students and teachers,” said Christine Alves, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the RI School for Progressive Education. “Investing in our multilingual learners is not only a necessary next step, it is the right thing to do. Everyone who has the ability to increase access to an equitable, high-quality public education for our state's children is called to do just that at this pivotal moment. We are proud to be part of an initiative that is not simply a response to demographic change, but is also guided by the conscience of the community.” 

"We applaud this move to accelerate the number of trained educators who can better serve the growing number of multilingual language learners in our classrooms. Having already identified this critical need, Roger Williams University’s University College has developed a highly successful, rigorous, job-embedded ESL Teacher Certification Program that has already doubled in size and is poised to grow further,” said Roger Williams University President Ioannis N. Miaoulis. “RWU University College is ready to deepen our partnership with the Providence Public School District and Rhode Island Department of Education on this effort to help prepare as many teachers as we can to work in inclusive classrooms.” 

"The University of Rhode Island commends RIDE's renewed emphasis on multilingual learners and the importance of improving education for this growing population of students in Rhode Island," said University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley. The President stated further, "the University and it's Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies continuously strive to support the needs of school districts by preparing students and teachers to educate an increasingly diverse student population in Rhode Island and across the region."


"We are excited to provide opportunities for teachers and our students to gain critically important ESL education from some of the best practitioners in the region who are emerging as nationally respected scholars," said Dean of the URI Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies R. Anthony Rolle.


The district has identified approximately 80 elementary school teaching positions that will transition from general education to ESL-certified teaching positions in the fall of 2020. In February, impacted teachers will be asked to commit to the ESL certification process. Those teachers will then apply for either an expert residency certification or an emergency certification. Both certifications allow educators to continue teaching a particular content area—in this case, English as a Second Language—while they complete courses toward a certification. 


If any of the 80 teachers choose not to enroll in an ESL certification program, they may become displaced from their current positions next year. Displaced teachers will be assigned to open positions in the district prior to the start of the school year. In the event that not enough open positions are available or that displaced teachers do not have the credentials necessary to fill those open positions, some teachers may face layoffs. In communicating this news to teachers, PPSD offered open office hours to answer questions or discuss the details of this initiative with any teacher who has questions.